Mahalaya is a special day for anybody who has stayed in Kolkata. One can’t forget the days when one woke up at 4am and switched on the radio, to listen to the special programme aired by AIR, known as “Mahisasur Mardini”. The audio-montage (chanting of Vedic verses - chandipath, devotional songs and music), narrated by the unforgettable Birendrakrishna Bhadra and was scripted by Bani Kumar. The music was composed by Pankaj Mullick and the songs were sung by Hemanta Kumar and Arati Mukherjee besides others. Though many who were part of the original rendition are not alive, AIR till date plays the original recording which was recorded in the early 1930s, and goes on for 2 hours creating magic as the sun announces the dawn.
According to mythology, on Mahalaya day, Goddess Durga was delegated the task to eliminate the mighty Asura king called Mahisasura – the buffalo demon. As per a myth, Lord Shiva had granted him a boon that no man or deity would ever kill him. Having acquired the boon, he went on a rampage and even evicted the gods out of the heavens. When all the gods went to the Holy Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, they collectively created an energy – Shakti in the form of Devi Durga, who fought waged a nine day battle and finally vanquished the mighty Asura, and thus also came to be known as Mahisasur Maridni – the slayer of the Mahisasura.
According to another myth, this was also the day Lord Ram performed Durga Puja before he embarked on the war with Ravana. Prior to this, Durga Puja was always performed in Spring time, and was thus known as Basanti Puja (Basanta for spring). But Lord Ram performed this untimely practice, thus giving it the name of Akal Bodhon – Akal meaning ‘untimely’ and Bodhon meaning ‘worship’!
Though Mahalaya falls on the final day of Pitru Paksha and has its own sanctity of the day, the day also heralds the beginning of all the festivities that is celebrated with full pomp and gaiety – as any person from Kolakata, and s/he would vouch for this!